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Hyped Potter release a curse for independent sellers

Cari Tuna

MINNEAPOLIS -- Saturday's debut of the seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series may be a magical time financially for its author and publisher, but it's less so for bookstores -- especially independent ones.

Faced with steep discounts from chains and big-box stores, a swath of midnight extravaganzas and a long list of rules tied to the occasion, some local shops are opting for a more subdued release.

"It's definitely not a big moneymaker," said Mary Magers, part owner of Magers & Quinn Booksellers in Minneapolis. "(But) you can't not carry the book."

A sampling of independents in the Twin Cities found that they bought their copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for 40 to 46 percent less than the $34.99 list price, depending on whether they ordered from a wholesaler or from the publisher, Scholastic Corp.

But with Amazon.com offering the book at a 49 percent discount, and Borders and Barnes & Noble at 40 percent off, smaller stores have to strike a balance between turning a profit and staying competitive.

On Saturday, prices at these local shops will vary from 40 percent off to no discount. Common Good Books ordered about 125 copies and will sell the book at full price.

"We can't play the discount game," said Martin Schmutterer, assistant manager at the St. Paul store. "Our customers shop here for a reason: They want to support independent bookstores."

Schmutterer said that besides the purchase of copies, there are several expenses associated with carrying a book, ranging from shipping and vendor fees to the cost of displays and advertising. If you add staffing until midnight and beyond, and a Potter-themed party, the profit margin shrinks even further.

A few local shops are not buying into the midnight hype, however. Wild Rumpus, an "unconventional" children's bookstore in Minneapolis, and Common Good Books will begin selling the books at the more conventional hours of 9 and 10 a.m., respectively.

Wild Rumpus customers will find another Potter stealing some of Harry's limelight on Saturday: Beatrix Potter.

The store will host a maypole dance and full English breakfast, complete with scones and clotted cream, to celebrate the author of Peter Rabbit (although the 9 a.m. opening is an hour early for those who want to get their hands on "the other Potter book").

"We're trying to tie in with (Harry Potter) and yet do something completely different," said Collette Morgan, the shop's co-founder.

Increasingly strict rules about parties and advertising are also taking some of the magic out of the festivities, said some booksellers.

Stores are forbidden from opening the boxes in which the books are delivered until Saturday, and they had to submit their party plans to Scholastic for approval, said Morgan. Warner Bros. Studios, a division of Time Warner that owns the rights to the Harry Potter films, is clamping down on some stores that use characters' names or other Potter-jargon in party ads and decorations, she said.

"Time Warner is being too restrictive," said Morgan. "They are afraid that other companies will make money off of their movies."

Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, Ill., had to change the name of a citywide "Muggle Magic" party after receiving an e-mail from a Warner Bros. attorney in London, who said local companies might profit from the use of the word "muggle," according to Jan Dundon, a children's coordinator at Anderson's.

The event will now be called "The-party-that-shall-not-be-named."

Scholastic declined to discuss its agreements with booksellers, and Warner Bros. Studios declined to disclose its guidelines for party planners.

Still, the steep competition and rules have not tempered some stores' enthusiasm. The Red Balloon, a children's bookstore in St. Paul, will be open at midnight for the first time ever in honor of The Deathly Hallows.

"Abiding by the list of the rules ... was challenging," said store manager Marnie Johnson. "(But) it's very satisfying to see children and families and the public so excited over a book."

By Cari Tuna

Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (MCT)

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